Dancing Diagonally during the DNC

The mystery of Denver's diagonal crosswalks is straightened out.

Denver's diagonal crosswalks — loved by walkers, loathed by drivers — are often the cause of confusion for tourists and other visitors schlepping around downtown: "You can do what?" their puzzled faces seem to say as they watch local pedestrians waltz right through intersections.

To provide better guidance, the city is installing wider, longer lines that resemble diagonally facing open triangles and are made of super-bright 3M plastic tape. Public works spokeswoman Christine Downs says crews are on pace to complete them prior to the Democratic National Convention when tens of thousands of hopelessly confused pedestrians will no doubt stand in bewilderment as local yokels appear to walk right out into traffic.

So how did Denver end up with diagonal crosswalks?

In the late 1940s, Denver had such a terrible "corpuscular clotting of automobile traffic in its downtown arteries" that only one vehicle per green light could make a turn at each intersection because of the flood of pesky pedestrians, according to a 1953 Time magazine article. To remedy this catastrophic clusterfuck, the city hired a "graying, bucktoothed police captain from Flint, MI," named Henry "Hank" Barnes to be its traffic commissioner and ease the perpetual pain.

With an initial budget of $400,000, Barnes's first project was the creation of one-way streets, a move met by much irritation from drivers, who intentionally drove the wrong way before falling in line. He then installed 30,000 traffic-direction signs and 350 new traffic signals and invented the system of sensors beneath streets that inspires millions of drivers to this day to roll back and forth at major intersections in an effort to trigger lights to change.

His highest achievement, however, was a scheme known today as a pedestrian "scramble" or the "Barnes Dance," the implementation of a complete interval in traffic-signal cycles dedicated solely to pedestrians. Such a cycle allows walkers to cross directly or diagonally with less fear of being clipped by turning automobiles. Similar systems were already in place in Kansas City and Vancouver, but Barnes is widely credited with its installations in Denver, New York City and other cities. And although Denver citizens and local newspapers at first predicted a total downtown meltdown, Denver Post reporter John Buchanan eventually came around: "Barnes has made the people so happy," he wrote after the project was completed, "they're dancing in the streets."

Barnes Dance on, Denver.


Number 2 priority: Why is everyone obsessed with feces and urine at the Democratic National Convention? Seriously. First the protesters started speculating that the Denver Police might unleash a high-tech sound weapon on crowds that causes people to lose control of their bowels and crap themselves. Luckily, no such weapon exists, a fact that failed to prevent Fox News from running a national story on the so-called "crap cannon." Meanwhile, security officials have warned that the protesters themselves could possibly use poo or pee as weapons. As a result, Denver's City Council is mulling an ordinance banning the possession of "noxious substances" at protests.

To help mediate, Westword has founded Normal Citizens Rising Against Poo (NoCRAP) and is asking police, protestors, politicians and delegates to commit to "a moratorium on the public throwing, spraying, smearing, hosing or inducing of excrement for the week of August 25 through 29" The Denver Doo Doo Accord can be found at blogs.westword.com.

 
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